On The Table Read, the “Best Entertainment Celebrity Magazine in the UK“, artist Robert Francis James shares his inspiration and creative process.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed artist Robert Francis James about his art career, what inspires him, and the work that goes into his business.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m a “second-act” painter. I spent my first career in marketing and public relations, which was good to me, but not nearly as much fun as painting pictures and finding collectors.
What is the name of your business?
I use my full name as my business name, at the advice of a professional artist’s consultant, Danielle Glosser. Friends and family call me Bob, but Bob James is a legendary jazz musician who will forever “own” that name. I simply can’t compete.
How did you come up with that name?
My parents were responsible for my name. It’s not terribly original. In fact, the year I was born, “Robert” was the Number 1 baby boy’s name in the US.
What products do you sell?
I offer original still lifes in oil on canvas and fiberboard. My favorite subject is what I call “nostalgic food.” Collectors tell me my paintings remind them of the most pleasing moments of their childhoods.
When did you first start making your products?
My business opened in September 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. Shut in and without normal distractions, I hired Danielle, who helped me with the launch. I had been studying drawing and painting for precisely 10 years at that point.
What inspired you to start making your products?
In 2010, I exited a failing business that I had initially believed would have provided my second career. A visit to a week-long “plein air festival” that year inspired me to try my hand at creating art. Most of the painters I met at the festival were “second-act” artists. If they could succeed at painting, I thought, so could I.
What lessons have you taken to learn your craft or are you self-taught?
Without my astounding teachers, I’d be nowhere. They include the gifted painters Milena Spasic, Randall Graham, Neil Carlin, and John Murray. Studying under them has been a blessing.
How has your work changed or developed since you started?
I began painting traditional still lifes featuring fruit, old books, and pottery, but learned quickly from interacting with collectors that they were drawn to the paintings of comfort food. So I’ve concentrated on that subject.
Do you have a special workspace, or can you work anywhere?
I’m fortunate to have a dedicated room in my home to use as a painting studio. The natural lighting is less than ideal, but the constancy more than makes up for that. I know if I leave something somewhere, a day or two later it won’t have been stolen or knocked over by Ron, the cat.
Does music inspire or distract you?
Music—classical, rock, and Americana—playing in the background only adds to the pleasure of painting. Every painter would tell you that.
Is your business your full-time job or a side hustle?
Painting is my “real job.” I also consult, write, and teach on the side.
Are your family and friends supportive of your creative work?
My family, friends and neighbors are supportive and generous to a fault. As Danielle Glosser predicted, nearly all my early sales were to friends, family, and neighbors. Thanks to social media, my friends are also the largest cheerleading squad anyone could hope for.
Do you sell online and/or in person?
I sell paintings both through my website and at public art fairs.
How do you promote your business and find new customers?
I spend nearly as much time promoting my business as I spend drawing and painting. To be frank, an emerging artist who doesn’t spend at least half her time self-promoting doesn’t stand a prayer of making sales.
I blog, produce a newsletter, publish e-books, exhibit in juried shows, exhibit at public art fairs, post on Instagram and Facebook, and issue periodic news releases. I also belong to several professional associations and attend every face-to-face event I can, in order to meet other working artists and collectors.
Are you proud of your work and what you’ve achieved so far?
I’m in awe of professional artists like my teachers Milena, Randall, Neil, and John. While I’m flattered whenever someone buys one of my paintings, “proud” doesn’t apply. Perhaps I’ll feel pride when my teachers all say, “Go, I can’t teach you anything more.”
Do you have any goals for the future you can share with us?
I’m based in Greater Philadelphia. My goal for 2023 is to gain the judges’ approval to exhibit in the Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show, perhaps the region’s premier art festival. I also plan to increase my participation in other art fairs throughout the region. There’s no business like show business.
Do you have any special career highlights you’d love to experience again?
In late 2021, I won a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The recognition felt wonderful. They money wasn’t bad, either.
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